Sunday, November 2, 2014

Chillin’ in Baton Rouge

My brave fingertips have ventured out from under brown fleece and a double layer of knuckle-covering sleeves. They are on a mission to chronicle my current misery. Whether they do it willingly, I do not know. If my fingers have feet, they are dragging them. At the least, they are working slowly, either from insurrection in the making or simply because they are cold.

I awoke this morning to air so crisp and bracing I welcomed it as an autumn opportunity to tackle my chill from the inside out with steaming coffee. When the first cup failed to produce the anticipated warmth and well being, I doubled down for a second.

Still shivering, I emptied my second cup of aspirational warmth. Caffeine jumpstarted the dawning realization the chilly air was more than personal perspective. The thermostat confirmed this suspicion. It was cold! The temperature fought a losing battle to get out of the 50’s. No amount of threatening, cajoling or providing fresh batteries produced even a whisper of warmth.

We donned double layers, nestled in blankets and eventually spent the better part of the day seeking more congenial environs. We settled our shivering pet in the prime real estate of the heated bathroom floor.  And, yes, we called our personal heating expert who promised to restore normalcy to our frigid domicile first thing Monday morning.

Problem solved. Inconvenience averted. Can’t wait until tomorrow.

But my ‘affliction’ for one day will be a daily reality for the Baton Rouge homeless who live on the streets and huddle under bridges. Many seek the shelter of narrow doorways and press their shivering bodies against the locked doors in a futile attempt to borrow what little heat escapes well-intentioned weather stripping.

A steaming cup of coffee or warm breakfast is a sporadic luxury. There is no thermostat to adjust and no repairman who will make it all right in the morning. Any favors that come their way are small. They must hang their hope on the uncertain generosity of strangers.

I am miserable tonight—not because I am cold, but because my heart is broken for those who have nothing. And won’t have anything again tomorrow. The extra coats I donated last week to the homeless through our church’s Breakfast Under the Bridge ministry are a scant token of my concern. Every coat in our closet wouldn’t provide enough fabric to protect a street dweller from the winter’s advancing cold.

Perhaps I can add some blankets. Maybe even the one that currently drapes my shoulders. At our house, the heat will be on again tomorrow.

‘Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.’ Matthew 25:40

The Clumsy Dance

Our impromptu dance was an uncharacteristic as it was unexpected. It wasn’t the awkward movements or lack or artistry that made it surprising. After all, my husband, who has countless admirable qualities, has never once claimed to be a dancer.  His infrequent forays onto the dance floor have demonstrated he didn’t underestimate his abilities.

What surprised me was that this two-step, one-step, two-step, one routine—glaringly devoid of choreography—occurred at all. It isn’t like my husband to misjudge a situation or to hesitate in determining a course. And once a course is set, he isn’t likely to retrace his steps. He seldom backs away from a challenge, even if the challenge at hand is an approaching white Suburban. One menacing glare from the steely blue eyes of this teddy bear of a man is usually sufficient to slow the speediest driver.

But here we were, inelegantly waltzing from the curb to the pavement in a tentative attempt to carry our newest home improvement project, packaged in pristine DIY components, to our car.

Equally surprising was the way I joined him in the uncertainty. At the moment he took his first step backwards, I was already in the middle of the lane, clearly in the bull’s-eye of the SUV. Being in the path of an oncoming car is a position in which I find myself frequently. My cavalier attitude toward moving vehicles is rooted in a history of being blonde and taking for granted that from a distance drivers would assume I was either too dumb or too beautiful to hit. They would, of course, have been right on the first and wrong on the second.

In the recent situation, it would have taken me fewer steps to reach safety than to run dutifully to his side. I make no apologies for this illogical decision. I acted from a desire to honor my husband’s continuing attempts to protect me. This is a newfound delight for me—not his attempts, but my willingness to appreciate them. A growing wisdom born of age and experience compels me to signal to this man who is so dear, “I will follow you even when I have no idea what you are doing.”

Humor and eye contact ended our dance. The driver laughed and waved. My husband shrugged sheepishly and walked. I shook my head and followed.

Unbidden, a simple recollection careened into my brain and collided with my relief. “An indecisive man is unstable in all his ways” (James 1:8 HCSB).

James 1:2-7 gives the background, “Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith without doubting. For the doubter is like the surging sea, driven and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.”

How absurd I must appear when I ask God for a gift and falter to embrace it. The clumsy dance of two adults trying to cross a busy driveway is laughable human error. The failure to walk with steadfast confidence toward the promises of an unfailing Father is unmistakable folly.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Joy of Love Assured

The lights were dimmed for this closing conversation of another day with my granddaughter. The acrid smell of a girl at play had been replaced by the sweet fragrance of body wash and strawberry conditioner. Nightgown knit caressed her tender skin, a welcome exchange from the no-nonsense fabric of uniform khaki.

Just after the bedtime rituals and right before the final tuck-in, she asked me what it was like to be old. I wasn’t offended. To a child of seven, everyone over the age of twelve seems old. 

I began to share my own musings on the passing of many years. “Being old is wonderful. You have seen so many places and have so many memories. Getting old is wonderful because of…”

Before I could finish, she interrupted, “Grandchildren. You have to be old before you can have grandchildren.”

“Yes! Yes,” I said. “That is absolutely the best part of being old.”

I was, of course, delighted by my newfound knowledge that my hugs, kisses, hand-written notes and special treats had conveyed the accurate message of love. Even more, I was touched by her obvious sense of security in knowing she was treasured.

Here was a child who knew her very existence brought me pleasure. She had no doubt that I delighted in her, her sister and her cousins. Relaxing into this verbal reminder of my unquestionable love for her, she let go of the final reins of day as night carried her toward peaceful rest.

Our little conversation took me to my own familiar place. In her confident declarations, I relived my own relationship with a heavenly Father who cherishes me. I recalled his constant tenderness to me, even when I was slow to call it love. I remembered learning to rest safely in the arms of the One who loves me with an everlasting love.

The exchange gave me insight into my Father’s heart as well. If my granddaughter’s knowledge of my love brought me such joy, how much more is the One who delights in me pleased when I am confident in his love.

“For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears.
 He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” Zephaniah 3:17 (NLT)

Monday, September 8, 2014

In Need of a Doppelganger

I was up to my elbows in chopped onions, celery, garlic and carrots, the foundations of a spaghetti sauce for twenty-five people’s Sunday dinner. With each trip to the refrigerator, I had to reach around bowls of leftover ice cream toppings, a visual reminder I had spent all of the previous day preparing food for an even larger party the night before.

I cooked frantically. We were leaving shortly to walk the two miles to the first home game of the football season. The tickets waited impatiently on the table next to the gift for a bridal shower I would attend Sunday afternoon—after the spaghetti lunch.

This was a four-event weekend, and I seriously needed my doppelganger to show up and assume half of the responsibility. I would have preferred it to be the one with shiny, just-straightened hair. But in the state in which I found myself, the one with ‘fresh from the shower, no-time-to-dry’ hair would have been the more accurate representation.

With so much going on, you would have thought my emotions would have had the courtesy not to write their own story. But there they were, swinging petulantly between proud and pitiful. My already full hands alternately patted my back, in congratulation for my selfless service, and held my head to keep it from spinning.

Neither extreme reflected my heart nor my motivation for this marathon weekend. Three of the events were to honor young people I love. Each has had a special place in my life. Individually they have assisted me in ministry, shared their talent and partnered in mission. I have watched as God called them to use their unique gifts to serve him.

I thought of their faces. I remembered the experiences we had shared. I knew I had been honored by the opportunity to watch these men and women mature. I was glad I could support these friends who now are serving God with their whole lives.

Somewhere between chopping and sautéing, I gained a new perspective.

Yes, every tiring task was worth it. The shopping, cooking, transporting, cleaning—I would do them all again. I was doing it for them!

A quiet voice whispered into my euphoria, “You have set your sights too low.” Then in the gentle words of Jesus, I was reminded of who I really served.

Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ (Matthew 25: 40)

My doppelganger was a no-show, but if she had made an appearance, I would have been happy to share with her the joy that comes from serving the One who gave his all for me.